Note: This is the first in Complete Colorado reporter Sherrie Peif’s series of “Know before you go” stories, breaking down the arguments presented by a group of Jefferson County residents seeking to recall three members of the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education. In this story, we take a look at Superintendent Dan McMinimee’s contract.
Each day, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee is charged with overseeing nearly 87,000 kids in more than 150 schools, as well as 14,000 district employees. The district see-saws back and forth with Denver Public Schools as the state’s largest district.
But the Jeffco superintendent’s base salary ($220,000) is less than 10 other superintendents across the state.
It is $30,000 less than that of St. Vrain Valley Re-1J district Superintendent Don Haddad, who according to the Boulder Daily Camera was recently given a 16 percent raise to $250,000. St Vrain is the state’s seventh largest school district with 55,000 fewer kids than Jeffco. In fact, the highest paid superintendent in Colorado ($269,670) oversees the Douglas County School District, which is 20,000 students smaller than Jeffco.
Even the superintendent of Littleton Public Schools, the 18th largest district in the state with a fraction of Jeffco’s enrollment at just under 16,000 students, brings in $35,000 more than McMinimee.
If you listen to those backing the recall effort, McMinimee is the highest paid superintendent in the state making $280,000 a year in base salary, “$80,000 more each year” than his predecessor. But that is a highly misleading, apples-to-oranges comparison.
In fact, the rhetoric that has been the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA)’s main talking point since McMinimee was hired more than a year ago has been repeated so many times that no one questions it anymore. When Jeffco United filed its petition for the recall more than a week ago, it was one of the main reasons the group cited.
But it’s nowhere near accurate. The $280,000 base salary figure first surfaced during the superintendent search in 2014. Ken Witt, president of the board and one of those targeted for recall along with Julie Williams and John Newkirk, pointed out that it was one of his other colleagues who upped the starting salary.
During compensation discussions, Jill Fellman, who has announced she will not seek re-election, moved to increase the advertised salary, public recordings of the meeting show.
Complete Colorado obtained the contracts of both McMinimee and his predecessor Cindy Stevenson. The contracts are public record and can be obtained by any citizen who wants to verify the facts simply by filing a Colorado Open Records Act request with the district.
Statewide salaries are also available on the Colorado Department of Education’s website. Those reports should be double-checked with the individual districts, however, as the amounts are continually changing. Even so, they are a good starting point for the minimum being earned.
What the Jeffco contracts show is a much different story than the one being told by opponents of the three conservative majority members.
Once McMinimee was selected, his base salary was finalized at $220,000. Additionally, McMinimee was given fringe benefits similar to many if not most superintendents across the state. Those include a performance bonus of up to $40,000 per year – not guaranteed and not awarded to date – Public Employee Retirement Account (PERA) reimbursements; sick, personal and vacation time; insurance; and other reimbursements for professional organization fees. Stevenson’s contract included a base salary of $205,500. Stevenson, who was with the district for more than a decade, also had a performance bonus (up to $20,000) per year, PERA reimbursements; insurance; other reimbursements for professional organization fees and sick, personal and vacation time. She was given automatic salary increases, one more week a year in vacation, three more personal days and a $10,000 annual retention bonus each year that she remained with the district.
Stevenson’s salary was a product of her tenure. She was eligible for a small percentage increase each year, but was hired at a lesser starting salary based on the economy. In some years, she refused a raise. Therefore her salary never caught up with those around her who were being hired after the economy recovered from the 2008 recession. The same can be said about Haddad in St. Vrain.
According to the Daily Camera article which reported Haddad’s raise, Board President Bob Smith told the paper, “[Haddad’s] salary has been behind for five to six years.” The same article noted, “For Haddad’s current raise, St. Vrain Valley board President Bob Smith said the district conducted an informal salary survey of the state’s eight largest school districts that showed that Haddad is underpaid.”
A similar situation occurred in Greeley-Evans School District 6, where Ranelle Lang was forced to leave the district around the same time as Stevenson – also after a decade of leadership. When she left the helm of the state’s 13th largest district with 21,000 students, Lang’s salary was similar to Stevenson’s at $202,154.50. Lang’s benefits package far exceeded Stevenson’s, with a $600 monthly car allowance and a deferred compensation package worth more than $50,000.
A strong argument can be made, therefore, that Stevenson was underpaid more than McMinimee is overpaid, especially given the fact that McMinimee earns less than several contemporaries who manage smaller districts.
Witt says this current board was playing catchup when it hired a new superintendent. “Jeffco recently negotiated increased teacher salaries to help ensure we can attract the best educators,” Witt said. “As one of the two largest districts in the state, we demonstrated the same commitment to competitive compensation when we surveyed the superintendent compensation of the state’s largest districts and negotiated competitive pay for superintendent McMinimee.”